March 3, 2022

WHO Releases Standard Aimed at Preventing Hearing Loss in Recreational Settings

On March 2, the World Health Organization (WHO) published an international standard, titled WHO Global Standard for Safe Listening at Venues and Events, that is intended to prevent hearing loss to people in places where amplified music is played, especially entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and arenas where concerts and sports events are hosted. This new standard lists six recommendations that can be implemented by government public health initiatives, venue owners and managers, acousticians, engineers, musicians, and event organizers to allow audience members and people working in these settings to enjoy music safely while preserving the artistic experience.

WHO recommends 100 dB as an average upper limit for sound levels at venues and events. According to the standard, the choice of this sound level “seeks to balance the need to protect hearing, on one hand, against audience expectations and freedom of artistic expression on the other.” The standard also prescribes live monitoring of sound levels at events by designated staff members; optimizing venue acoustics and sound systems to ensure safe listening; providing hearing protection, such as earplugs, along with instructions for use; designating quiet spaces for people in the venue to rest their ears; and informing staff and audience members of practical steps they can take to listen safely.

Both the executive summary and the news release announcing the standard highlight the global risk of hearing loss to teenagers and young adults. Aside from reducing sound overexposures in recreational settings, the standard is also applicable to individual noise exposures encountered in activities such as listening to music on personal devices and playing video games.

“Governments, civil society, and private sector entities such as manufacturers of personal audio devices, sound systems, and video gaming equipment as well as owners and managers of entertainment venues and events have an important role to play in advocating for the new global standard,” said Dr. Ren Minghui, the assistant director-general of WHO. “We must work together to promote safe listening practices, especially among young people.”

According to WHO’s news release, the standard was released ahead of World Hearing Day 2022, an event held March 3 for the purpose of promoting hearing care, hearing loss prevention, and safe listening. A free PDF of the standard can be downloaded from WHO’s website.